Skip to main content

Boost your creativity by asking questions

What is creativity?

It involves seeing a problem in a new light.

What are some ways to see a problem in a new light?

Ask yourself questions about the problem or the underlying issues.

When you're working on a long-term writing project, it's not uncommon to feel stuck in a rut. You can feel like your argument is stale and that you're not offering anything new. At that point, it may be helpful to try posing questions to yourself that jolt you out of that rut.

What got me started thinking about this was an article I was reading called "The Role of Socratic Questioning in Thinking, Teaching, & Learning". The authors point out that thinking comes from questions: "Questions define tasks, express problems and delineate issues. Answers on the other hand, often signal a full stop in thought. Only when an answer generates a further question does thought continue its life as such." As they point out, "The art of Socratic questioning is important for the critical thinker because the art of questioning is important to excellence of thought."

See the article for some extraordinarily useful hints that will help you apply the Socratic questioning method to your writing. For example:
  • Respond to all answers with a further question (that calls upon the respondent to develop his/her thinking in a fuller and deeper way)
  • Seek to understand–where possible–the ultimate foundations for what is said or believed and follow the implications of those foundations through further questions
  • Treat all assertions as a connecting point to further thoughts
  • Treat all thoughts as in need of development
I think this paragraph from the article mentioned above says it best (I added bold font and divided the question types with bullet points for clarity):
Deep questions drive our thought underneath the surface of things, force us to deal with complexity.
  • Questions of purpose force us to define our task.
  • Questions of information force us to look at our sources of information as well as at the quality of our information.
  • Questions of interpretation force us to examine how we are organizing or giving meaning to information and to consider alternative ways of giving meaning.
  • Questions of assumption force us to examine what we are taking for granted.
  • Questions of implication force us to follow out where our thinking is going.
  • Questions of point of view force us to examine our point of view and to consider other relevant points of view.
  • Questions of relevance force us to discriminate what does and what does not bear on a question.
  • Questions of accuracy force us to evaluate and test for truth and correctness. Questions of precision force us to give details and be specific.
  • Questions of consistency force us to examine our thinking for contradictions.
  • Questions of logic force us to consider how we are putting the whole of our thought together, to make sure that it all adds up and makes sense within a reasonable system of some kind.
The next time your writing is going around in circles, or you feel that what you're saying is trite or just not creative enough, get Socratic with yourself.


Popular posts from this blog

"ABD" -- what does it really mean?

I thought I knew what the definition of ABD was. It was exactly the same as defined here in Carnegie Mellon's University Doctoral Candidate Policies for All But Dissertation (ABD) : After the completion of all formal degree requirements other than the completion of and approval of the doctoral dissertation and the public final examination, doctoral candidates shall be regarded as All But Dissertation(ABD). I have, though, occasionally run into the term ABD being used as a somewhat disparaging designation for one who fulfills the formal degree requirements of the Ph.D. but never finishes the dissertation, and then quits the program. Most recently, I saw it in What They Didn' t Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career , by Paul Gray and David E. Drew. Number 9 of their helpful hints is one that I strongly agree with: "Remember that a Ph.D. is primarily an indication of survivorship." They go on to say, "You stuck wi

Academic Exhaustion Syndrome: Four Recovery Strategies

The semester’s over. If you’re anything like the academics I coach, you feel like death warmed over.  Those last stacks of grading got done on sheer will, determination and fumes. And this is before considering your writing deadlines, committee responsibilities, and other demands.  You are suffering from Academic Exhaustion Syndrome.  Academic Exhaustion Syndrome (an advanced, more scholarly state of burn out) is a state of emotional, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged stress, ending with grading, over the course of the semester and academic year. As the stress continues, you begin to lose interest and motivation to work, you have fantasies of standing up and screaming in the middle of a meeting, and you wonder what temporary loss of reality testing made you decide to become an academic.  This dreaded Syndrome can: Reduce your productivity and saps your energy Make you irritable and have thoughts of strangling an undergraduate Make you feel like you have nothing more to g

The Second Holiday Writing Challenge for Academics

Here's a little boost for those who need a little kickstart to write over the holidays.  I first offered a Holiday Writing Challenge  back in 2005, so I'd say it's about time to do it again. Here's what you do: Post in the comment section: what you'd like to work on (if anything) over the holidays, and the maximum amount of time you'd like to spend on it daily . Please keep this time limit reasonable and low unless you're under huge deadline pressure -- in which case you don't need this challenge in order to get something done! Whether you're a professor or a grad student, make sure you get a copy of the Dissertation Toolkit.  These tools will give you more information and tips for productive and creative writing.  For those of you who have had trouble making yourself write, you may want to start with VERY short writing goals . Even 5 or 10 minutes will be enough to get you jumpstarted.  Don't go more than 25 or 30 minutes withou